Olympics: Singular or Plural?

Should we say “the Olympics is” or “the Olympics are“?

It’s safe to say that the Olympics is on everybody’s mind these days. I remember the excitement of living in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city was alive and vibrant, full of excitement, hope, and team spirit. I also love how each Olympics seems to bring the world together.

With everyone talking about the Olympics, it is rather important to determine if a singular or plural verb should follow this subject. This very question came up a few days ago, when Tara was getting ready to record the podcast of an updated ESL Library’s lesson on the Olympics, which I was about to edit. She asked me if the lesson should use a singular or a plural verb with “the Olympics,” and likewise with “the Olympic Games.” I was stumped, and set about doing some research. It’s funny how we commonly hear both singular and plural verbs used with “the Olympics,” and most of us, including me, probably haven’t given it much thought!

Unfortunately, my dictionaries and style guides didn’t have any direct references to the Olympics. I did some internet research instead. Right away, I noticed multiple uses of both singular and plural verbs following “the Olympics.” Most examples of “the Olympic Games” used a plural verb, although I did see some examples of singular verbs used, too.

Decision time:

We at ESL Library decided to go with “the Olympics” + singular verb and “the Olympic Games” + plural verb. Basically, “the Olympics” is a collective noun like team or United States, and usually takes a singular verb. “Games,” on the other hand, is a plural noun that should take a plural verb. It’s possible to consider “the Olympic Games” as a collective noun, but “the Olympic Games is…” just doesn’t sound right to me. “The Olympic Games are…” sounds much better!

Examples:

Example 1

“The 2014 Winter Olympics, officially the XXII Olympic Winter Games, or the 22nd Winter Olympics, is scheduled to take place from 7 to 23 February 2014, in Sochi, Russia, with some events held in the resort town of Krasnaya Polyana.”

Source: Wikipedia, “2014 Winter Olympics,” accessed July 29, 2012, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics.

Example 2

“In a speech watched around the world, Games chief Jacques Rogge said: “The Olympic Games are coming home tonight.”

Source: BBC News UK, “Young athletes light London 2012 Olympic flame,” accessed July 29, 2012, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19008471.

I’d love to know what you think, too! Do you agree with our decision? Why or why not?

Go for the gold,
Tanya

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30 comments

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  1. vaisovt98@gmail.com'

    Vaisov Takhir says:

    Dec 25, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Hello. I am from Uzbekistan. It is common issue in my country . Every time we take part in exams we will be asked this and I gues. It is so confussion that nobody solve the test which we will be given

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 28, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Vaisov, this is a tough thing to be tested on! I hope the post helped you. :)

      Reply

  2. ian@irg.hk'

    Ian Godfrey says:

    Feb 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    One thing that I haven’t seen addressed with this issue is how to refer to two or more Olympiads! Any thoughts on this? The question raised itself in my mind when I noted that the bbc.co.uk website had an article entitled: “Sochi 2014: Is it fair to compare Olympics?” It feels somehow not quite right… as an ancient Greek idea, should there not be a Greek ending?… Olypmpices or something?… Just a thought.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 02, 2015 at 11:01 pm

      Good point, Ian! It does sound strange when a singular noun ending in -s is plural in context. Even “Olympic Games” doesn’t deal with this issue. Olympices is a good one, haha! Olympi? ;)

      Reply

  3. gen@icaltefl.com'

    Jenny Scott says:

    Feb 05, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I suppose it depends to a certain extent whether we are descriptive or prescriptive people.

    A look at Google n-grams shows OLYMPICS ARE more popular than OLYMPICS IS. However, a look at Google trends shows OLYMPICS IS more popular than OLYMPICS ARE.

    For my money either is fine; let’s wait and see what time says about this.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 05, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Great idea to check Google Ngram and Trends, Jenny! I did a quick search with Googlebattle and Googlefight, too. Googlebattle has “Olympics is” as slightly higher, but they were tied on Googlefight. Interesting! I agree, time will tell. Language is always evolving.

      Reply

  4. ESL Library Staff says:

    Jan 21, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Also, we’ve learned a lot about capitalization from this post. Am I right to capitalize “Winter” whenever referring to the Games? “The Winter Olympic competitions are always in the northern hemisphere.”

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      You are correct! We capitalize the full name of the sporting event, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, section 8.77. So it should be “the Winter Olympics” and “the Summer Olympics”. You were also correct to use “Olympic”, without the final -s, as the adjective form. Stay tuned for another blog post about the Olympics in a few weeks!

      Reply

  5. lichencraig@yahoo.com'

    Lichen Craig says:

    Jan 15, 2014 at 1:31 am

    As a professional writer and editor with over 25 years experience and education, I would completely agree with your conclusion. Here is my logic: “The Olympics” is an event, a singular event. It can also be used to mean an entity, a singular entity. Because of this consistent implication of singularity in common meaning, I would give it a singular verb. Thus, “Olympics IS”. However, “Olympic Games” or “Olympic games” implies a plural collection of events within the big event. The plural nature of this phrase requires a plural verb: “Olympic Games ARE”.

    Another good example of this is the proper use of a singular verb with the word “media” – it is most proper to say for example, “The American media is…” .

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 15, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment! It’s great to hear from someone with so much experience, and with the 2014 Olympics coming up, I have a feeling that many people will be questioning this once again!

      Reply

  6. paulandsonny@yahoo.co.jp'

    Paul Sonny Kim says:

    Nov 29, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Thank you for your precise explanations. I need to check it to make a speech manuscript on the Olympic Games.

    Reply

  7. gamaz2006_s@yahoo.com'

    mahmoud metwally gamaz says:

    Apr 24, 2013 at 4:12 am

    i want a list of plural nouns that treated as singular like , news , furniture….please?

    Reply

  8. gamaz2006_s@yahoo.com'

    mahmoud metwally gamaz says:

    Apr 24, 2013 at 4:10 am

    could I know comments please?

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Apr 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

      Hi Mahmoud,

      I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean you can’t see the comments on this page?

      Reply

  9. gamaz2006_s@yahoo.com'

    mahmoud says:

    Apr 24, 2013 at 4:07 am

    we can consider it single if it means a symbol or a unit or collective.
    we can consider it plural if it means the games and all kinds of games played or practiced during it.(that according to me )

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Apr 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Hi Mahmoud,

      I agree, it depends on how you look at it.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Tanya :)

      Reply

  10. hasna_96@live.com'

    Hasna says:

    Oct 16, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Logically we couldnt use “Olympics is” or “the Olympic Games is” anyway. Nice tho, I totally agree with you

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm

      Hi Hasna,

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that “the Olympic Games are ” sounds correct, and since “games” is a count noun, this makes sense. But I still debate with myself over “the Olympic Games is.” If you think of it as a collective/non-count noun, then it is technically correct (another example: “The news is interesting.”). I think it’s ok to say “The Winter Olympics is a sporting event that takes place every four years.” But would I say “The Olympics is exciting” or “The Olympics are exciting?” In that case, I think the second choice sounds better. It’s tough! I guess I’ll worry about it again in 2014! ;)

      Reply

  11. rocky@seriousscholar.com'

    Rocky says:

    Sep 03, 2012 at 4:03 am

    ps I meant to say that if you check out a Google Ngram and run “Olympics is, Olympics are” (without the quotes), the usage is remarkably similar over time (both in U.S. English and British English). :)

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Sep 06, 2012 at 5:22 am

      Hi Rocky,

      Thanks for your comments. The Google Ngram search is really interesting…I’m glad you thought of doing that! :)

      Reply

  12. rocky@seriousscholar.com'

    Rocky says:

    Sep 03, 2012 at 3:59 am

    Hi there,

    I was looking for an answer to this myself. Merriam-Webster Collegiate lists “Olympic Games” as a plural noun. I believe Third New World has a listing for Olympics but I do not have access to it at the moment. I can see an argument either way, so perhaps it depends on the perspective of the sentence. Thank you for your insight! :)

    Reply

  13. tanya@tbtk.net'

    Tanya says:

    Aug 02, 2012 at 3:32 am

    If you go to tvweek.com and type in “Olympics is” and “Olympics are,” you can see plenty of examples of both. I guess it depends on the writer! The good news is that you can’t really go wrong. :)

    Reply

  14. tanya@tbtk.net'

    Tanya says:

    Aug 01, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Thanks for all the great comments! I’ve found myself saying both “the Olympics is” and “the Olympics are” this week. It’s a tricky one! Kathleen, thanks for your info re: sources. I did check into some more reliable sources such as the BBC and CNN, but I found that they mostly avoided using the Olympics as a subject and thus avoided the problem altogether. I’m doing some work for Canada Wide Media at the moment, so I might be able to ask the TV Week staff what they’ve been doing in terms of singular or plural verbs with the Olympics.

    Reply

  15. tara@redriverpress.com'

    Tara Benwell says:

    Jul 31, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Every time I hear or see a new reference I question it now. In fact, we had to go back to our original lesson plan because we found a few places where we missed a few references related to our own decision (such as in a question form: Are the Olympics…Is the Olympics…) This debate is still open. Please share your thoughts and tell us which team you are cheering for. Most of our team members are Canadian. Go Canada!

    Reply

  16. carmen_miralles@hotmail.com'

    Carmen says:

    Jul 31, 2012 at 7:17 am

    I still think that “The Olympics are” sounds better and more natural than using the singular. We’ve been saying it for so many years that it sounds more like a plural noun than a collective one.

    Thanks for the article. :)

    Reply

  17. jmayl39@rogers.com'

    Judy says:

    Jul 30, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    To me the word ‘Olympics’ when used as an event is singular, but in general I would use a plural verb. I’ve been watching the Olympics on TV for the last four days. So would i say, “They are so exciting to watch!” or “It” is so exciting to watch. If I said “it”, I might think I’m talking about “the TV”. Whereas if I said “They”, I would know it was the actually sports/games in the Olympics that were exciting.

    I don’t know – it’s a hard one.
    J.

    Reply

  18. ksmartin103@gmail.com'

    Kathleen says:

    Jul 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Google is an excellent online reference source and “encylopedia”, however when it comes to grammar, when in doubt I use a major periodical or newspaper like the New York Times. So in your examples, BBC is a credible source, while most academians do not regard wikipedia as reliable. The New York Times uses “Olympics are” in several citations. For example: “Are the olympics more trouble than they are worth”. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/04/02/are-the-olympics-more-trouble-than-theyre-worth/how-the-2012-olympic-games-help-londoners. On the other hand, I agree that “Games” is a plural noun, but I can find no reference that “The olympics” is a collective noun. My dictionary defines “the olympics” as a reference to “the olympic games” and therefore uses the plural noun. Therefore, I believe “are” is the correct verb in both cases.

    Reply

  19. aleguel18@gmail.com'

    Lety says:

    Jul 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    I agree totally with you.

    Reply

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